Thoughts on Subtlety

Questions show the mind’s range, and answers, its subtlety.  Joseph Joubert

This morning, I had a sudden realization about subtlety.  I’d overheard a conversation between two people who were discussing a problem.  The first person speculated on several possibilities for the cause of the problem; the second dismissed the idea that there was even a problem at all.

I got to thinking about this difference in perspective:  was there truly no problem, as the second person maintained, or was the first person actually more observant and able to see the tiny beginnings of a shift?

There is a fine line, I believe, between noticing subtle shades and creating mountains out of molehills.  But how can we know the difference?  After all, perception is reality, and the observer does indeed change the nature of the observed.  Dilemma. . . .

As with most things in life, the answer, most likely, is to stick to a middle ground, to find some balance between obtuse and acute.  My goal today is to be the calmly flowing river between the dripping faucet and the raging waterfall.



The Downside of Awareness?

Awareness, I think, is one of the better qualities we can cultivate.  By paying attention and by striving to know ourselves, we can turn experience into wisdom.

But sometimes paying attention turns into navel gazing, where we get so focused on our own thoughts and our own Self that we forget to live in the real world with the other human beings.  Or we fall victim to spiritual materialism, as described by Chogyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (  There is a fine line between being aware and being egocentric.

Recently I came across two interesting items that highlighted this phenomenon of going down the proverbial rabbit hole.  The first was a television show on the National Geographic channel about the Mayan calendar and the now-infamous date of December 21, 2012.  The documentarian travelled to Guatemala and, through an interpreter, questioned several locals of Mayan descent.  He asked them about the so-called Mayan prophecies.  To a person, every one of them stared, nonplussed, at the interpreter and claimed no knowledge of such a prophecy.  Now, my Spanish is sufficient enough to know that the interpreter did indeed ask the question that the documentarian wanted, so there was no mix-up there.  Why the denial, then?  Perhaps everything could have been staged.  Perhaps there is a conspiracy by Mayan descendants to keep the knowledge secret and away from the white men.  But I think the more likely explanation is that the locals were aware enough of the Mayan calendar to know that 12-21-12 is just another day in the great circle of life, but not so overly aware and full of self-importance as to make it into a big deal.

I read about the second item in the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno.  According to their findings, in cultures where older women are viewed as respected elders, menopause symptoms are almost unheard of.   The authors even state that osteoporosis is extremely rare in those cultures where achieving old age is seen as a sign of divine blessing and great wisdom.  But here in the West, where eternal youth is valued, women experience hot flashes, headaches, and forgetfulness.  In fact, Western medicine classifies menopause as a disease.  They conclude that if our Western society would adopt a different cultural view of older women, then menopausal symptoms would cease to be.

The point here, in my opinion, is that our perspective is indeed our reality.  So is your reality one of spiritual materialism and navel gazing, where your thoughts imprison you in an apocalyptic world filled with hot flashes and night sweats?  What do you think?


You Payin’ Attention?

The header picture for this blog is a holly.  That holly is, in many ways, the reason for this blog.

One of the most important qualities for a Wisdom Warrior, I believe, is awareness.  As we each walk along our particular path in life, are we paying attention to the lessons and opportunities that come our way?  Whether you amble, sprint, or boogie down your life path, you can still notice the signposts that appear before you.

Of course, noticing is only part of the equation in “paying attention.”  After you notice, do you then ponder?  Do you take the time and effort to study your messages?  Do you research the signs and wonder how they apply to you?

Take my holly, for example.  This particular holly is on one of my favorite trails in Valley Forge Park.  Each time I walk or run past my holly, he catches my eye.  When I took this picture, it was early spring, so he stood out against the bare trees and brownness around him.

As a symbol, the holly signals that it is time to become the spiritual warrior, that it is time to be clear about our purposes.  Native Americans and Druids, among others, believed the holly to be a sacred gift.  While it’s actually a bush, the holly is considered to have all the spiritual power of a tree, and it was often used to make wands, staffs, and prayer sticks.

So when my holly “appeared” to me, I read up on his symbolism and knew it was time for me to be clear about my endeavors and my intentions.  While a challenging one for me, I accepted holly’s message and embarked on a new learning curve.

How about you?  Any signs come your way lately?  Are YOU paying attention?  Share here!